President Obama received a raucous welcome from "The Daily Show" audience upon making his entrance, but the show's host pulled no punches when he challenged the president on the audacity of his record during a half-hour interview Wednesday night.
The biggest laugh of the night came when, in defending his economic policies, Obama echoed President Bush's words in praising outgoing White House National Economic Council Larry Summers for doing a “heck of a job,” in preventing the country from sliding into a depression. The phrase was identical to Bush's ill-timed praise of FEMA boss Michael Brown's handling of the Hurricane Katrina fallout.
“You don’t want to use that phrase, dude,” Stewart said.
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As the crowd roared, Obama said, with a wink, "pun intended."
After presenting Obama with a special coffee cup -"Mug Force One" - Stewart - whose show is being taped in D.C. in advance of his October 30 "Rally to Restore Sanity" - immediately heightened the tension in the otherwise friendly encounter by asking if Obama has fallen short of expectations.
Obama responded that the American people have remained “resilient,” despite a wide range of challenges, including a poor economy and a paralyzed political system.
With the midterm elections looming next week and Democrats facing the near certainty of deep losses in the House and possibly the Senate, Stewart questioned Obama's strategy for getting the American people to back his agenda.
"You ran on very high rhetoric, hope and change, and the Democrats this year seem to be running on, 'Please give me one more chance,'" he said, while later stating that Obama's legislative agenda "felt timid at times."
The president pushed back hard against that notion.
"Jon, I love your show," Obama replied, "but this is something where I have a profound disagreement with you. We stabilized the economy...we got nine months of consecutive job growth...we have passed historic health care reform, historic regulatory reform. We have done things that people don't even know about."
Stewart quipped back, "Are you planning a surprise party for us, filled with jobs and health care?"
Still, "The Daily Show" anchor persisted that perhaps Obama's administration had not been as bold as it wanted to be.
"So you wouldn't say you would run next time as a pragmatist? It wouldn't be 'Yes we can, given certain conditions,'" Stewart said.
Obama responded, "No, I think what I would say is yes we can but" - which was met with laughter from the crowd - before finishing with, "but it's not going to happen overnight."
As the interview ended, the president said he wanted to "make a plug" and urged the crowd to get out and vote. Unable to resist one last joke, Stewart said aloud, "I thought you were dropping an album!"